It happens, every once in a while – a book comes along and I can’t keep my hands off it.  I start testing even before I’ve pitched it as an assignment, and then, once I’ve got the assignment, I can’t stop testing more and more, beyond what duty calls for.  By the time I’m done – if I’m ever done – the book is a porcupinish hash of Post-its and scrawled notes and mysterious stains.  Afterward the resulting monstrosity takes its permanent place on the kitchen shelves, a battle-scarred altar of 70 or 80 titles I refer to regularly.  The other 900 live upstairs.

Chinatown Kitchen is not a perfect book, but I adore it even with its flaws.  I find myself returning to it again and again, even though I may have other plans or better ideas.  That’s love, I suppose.  As with death, taxes, and that last bit of pork belly, what use resisting?

Click here to read this week’s review of ‘Chinatown Kitchen’ in the Washington Post.  

OK, it’s August and maybe you have no interest in turning your oven on unless it’s to make a peach pie.  Fair enough.  If you live in Brooklyn, you can trot on over to Ovenly in Williamsburg and get Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin to fork over one of their confections.

If you don’t live in Brooklyn, though, it may still be worth your while to brave the heat for the sake of the pistachio-cardamom cupcakes with dark-chocolate ganache.  They’re potent enough keep you buzzing for days, but maybe only if you eat three.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Ovenly’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Ovenly’ review

It’s been a busy summer and I’ve been a bit behind on updates…but a couple of new cookbooks from the new crop are worth looking at.  In the Washington Post last week, a review of Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield’s major release.

 Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Root to Leaf’ in the Washington Post.

And in the Boston Globe, a review of Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, by blogger Aimée Wimbush-Bourque.  It’s yet another tale of homesteading and renewal of the spirit – but it’s a very attractively packaged one.

Click here to read this today’s review of review of ‘Brown Eggs & Jam Jars’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of the ‘Brown Eggs & Jam Jars’ review

I almost missed this one, which came out yesterday (I wrote it in February) – the last hurrah of the late, great Penelope Casas.  As is often the case with doorstop cookbooks like this, there’s good value to be had, and a decent overview of a vast culinary landscape, but you do have to keep your wits about you.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘1000 Spanish Recipes’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘1000 Spanish Recipes’ review

If you want to see what unadulterated joy looks like, tell your children you’re going to be testing baking books for the next two weeks.  Be prepared for lip prints on the ceiling.  (If you want the opposite effect, substitute “vegan” for “baking”.)    Even the ominous notion that these would be “healthier” sweets – with less sugar, or different sugars – did little to dampen their enthusiasm.

There’s definitely something a little overwhelming about having 3 or 4 desserts in the house at a time.   I called friends over for emergency sampling. When we were invited to dinner, I brought the testing results with me.  Still, sweets piled on sweets, and by the end of the testing period – as you’ll see – I felt a bit like The Hungry Caterpillar (“The next day was Sunday again.  The caterpillar chewed through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better.”)  Fortunately, my next testing is a vegetable book.

Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Baking with Less Sugar’ and ‘Real Sweet’ in the Washington Post. 

My Perfect Pantry was one of my favorite books from last year.  So often chef books fall a bit far out of reach for those of us in the home kitchen, but Zakarian’s book was just the opposite – weeknight dishes you can make just from, mostly, what’s around – canned tomatoes, popcorn, chickpeas, chocolate (though may be not all of them at once!)

Click here to read this week’s review of ‘My Perfect Pantry’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘My Perfect Pantry’ review

My other recent story is a bit of a time warp.  Like many of the articles I write for the Globe, this one got written a while ago an stashed for future use.  In fact, I think I wrote this one in October or November of last year.  The smell of frost was just entering the air, and I was thinking cozy thoughts about soup. But now New England is in its brief high spring and winter has left us for the southern hemisphere.  So much has happened in the last 6 months, yet I still think of that soup and wish, in a way, I were cool enough to enjoy it even now.

Click here to read last week’s soup and bread story.  Hit the paywall? Click here for the PDF version.

Do you ever feel that baking – the measuring, the (sometimes) weighing, the technique, the time – is just too much?  In this week’s Globe, a bracing corrective to that way of thinking arrives in the form of Charmian Christie’s blog-to-book.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘The Messy Baker’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Messy Baker’ review

Testing Milk Bar Life was an education for me –  and completely unlike any testing I can remember.  Over the years I’ve had to hunt down all manner of seasonally ephemeral produce, little-known condiments from the back shelves of the Asian market, xanthan gum and carbonators from online sites.

But never before have I been asked to buy cake mix.  Or pre-made crescent rolls.  Or Ritz crackers and bread crumbs with “Italian seasoning”.  I got a little lost in the supermarket looking for them, to tell you the truth.

Was it worth it?  the crazy mix of highbrow and lowbrow baking?  The packaged hot dogs wrapped in the homemade buns? The Ritz crackers baked into fresh cookie dough? I’m still working that out.  But you can decide for yourself.

Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Milk Bar Life’ in the Washington Post. 

The good folks at the Washington Post asked  me to have a look at ‘Home’ by Washington restaurant insider Bryan Voltaggio, and as a non-DC-based reviewer I felt honored to be asked.  Besides, who doesn’t love it when a chef takes his skills back to the home front – restaurant-quality meals scaled down for 4, with equipment all of us have.  Easy! and fast! Right?

Well, maybe not. I’ll let you read for yourself.  Let’s just say, this is one of those stories where I found myself obliged to use the word “compost”.

 Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Home’ in the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, in the Boston Globe today, you’ll find my review of Brassicas.  Kale, as you probably know, is so hot – hotter than any green has ever been, probably – that there is an actual global shortage of kale seed.  (I couldn’t in fact get any for my own garden this year).  But for heaven’s sake, it’s not the only crucifer there is.  What about Brussels sprouts? and arugula? and cauliflower? and good old broccoli?

Russell’s book has good suggestions for them all.  Please, try them! try them!  then maybe we’ll have enough kale for everybody again next year.

Click here to read this today’s review of review of ‘Brassicas’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Brassicas’ review

It was almost 9 months ago that I first tested Recipes from my French Grandmother.  In the interval since, New England’s been locked in winter(and now, just barely unlocked), my son’s grown 3 inches (not kidding), and half a dozen more French cookbooks have come and gone.

Yet for all that, this one’s worth a second look.  It’s not showy and not particularly new, but there’s good value to be had in this small, attractive package.  At least one recipe – the vegetable soup with basil pistou – has made it to the favorites list.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Recipes from my French Grandmother’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘French Grandmother’ review


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